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Novelist Edith Wharton Designed Her Early 20th Century Home Landscape in the Popular Formal Style

Last week I visited The Mount, the home of novelist Edith Wharton (1862-1937). Her house sits in the Berkshires in the western Massachusetts town of Lenox.

The drive took about three hours.

Since she loved landscape design, she had to put her mark on the landscape surrounding her estate, which reflected the grandeur of the earlier Gilded Age. She chose the formal landscape style which was popular at the end of the nineteenth century.

On one end of the garden you see the Italianate fountain in all its formal glory. (below)

The formal garden a The Mount
The formal garden at The Mount

As you descend the stairs from the large patio in the back of the house to enter the garden, you walk along a wall of tall trees and shrubs. [below] This scene also contributes to that formal, linear look.

Staircase in the formal garden at The Mount
Staircase in the formal garden at The Mount

At the other end of the garden in a more shady area you find a parterre that uses white astilbes as edging. Unfortunately, the astilbes were not quite in bloom on my visit, but I am sure it is now a stunning sight to see the straight rows of the airy astilbe flowers in bloom.

Edith Wharton left a landscape history treasure in the pages of her book about Italian garden design called Italian Villas and Their Gardens (1904). It reads like a memoir and includes wonderful drawings by the popular artist and illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966).

In the early twentieth century when renewed interest in the formal garden appeared both in England and America, Edith Wharton designed her garden in that style. Today the garden at The Mount has been restored and offers the visitor a chance to capture a sense of that moment in the history of American gardening. 


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